June 20, 2012  |  Matter of Public Importance

TAFE funding and public sector job losses

 I have to say that what is going on here is a hoax by the state government in relation to TAFEs and in relation to public sector cuts. I rise to support the matter of public importance in the chamber today, and I do so because I think we need to have a look at the broad context we are facing globally — in Australia and worldwide. There is no doubt that we are in economies in transition, and nowhere is that felt more deeply in Australia than here in Victoria, with our strong manufacturing base, our service-based industries and an agricultural sector with challenges it has to meet. And here we are looking at courses provided by TAFEs across this state that will no longer be provided because of this government’s cruel hoax on the people of Victoria.

The reason this is such a cruel hoax is that these cuts are not about TAFE, they are not about training courses and they are not about preparing us for the economy that we are going to have to face and the jobs we are going to have to create; that is not what these cuts are about. 

If these cuts were about those things, the government would have sat down with the sector over the last 12 months, it would have consulted with the sector and with industry in an open forum, and it would have had a summit around the challenges we face in meeting the job needs of the future, in making sure that we are preparing our citizens to meet those job needs and in giving them the opportunities to help develop the new economy that we have to move into. Did that happen? Did I miss some big summit on jobs? Did I miss some big consultation process where the training sector, business, trade unions and schools were brought in? Did I miss that? Was I out of the state? Did anyone else miss it? It did not happen — that is the hoax. Be under no illusions: this has nothing to do with providing a proper training system for Victorians to train and be prepared for the jobs of the future. This has nothing to do with that. 

There has been no concern whatsoever about the impact of these cuts on country Victoria — none — and the impact is going to be huge and messy. You cannot tell me that in country Victoria, where tourism is so important, there is no demand for well-trained people in the hospitality industry, in the tourism industry and in a retail sector that is screaming for the government to deal with the issue of online retail. Of course there is; there has to be. Is the main need adequate training? I do not know, but you have to engage with the sector to find out — and we certainly have not done that. What we have had is a secret report by KPMG, apparently about the impacts of these cuts. We have had nothing about the ways we should be training our people for the future — none of that.

This is a straight, out-and-out budget cut to meet the government’s needs and priorities so it can do things like run over budget by $200 million on PSOs and build a new prison in the west. 

It was Victor Hugo who said, ‘He who opens a school door, closes a prison’. Well, that shows you what the priorities of this government are: ‘Let us build a prison and close the school doors’. That is what government members are doing. If we have a look at our economy and the effects it has, we see that youth unemployment in Victoria is at 20.6 per cent — the highest in Australia. In my electorate of Footscray unemployment is at 8.26 per cent compared to the rest of Victoria, which is at 5.8 per cent. But what is this government’s solution for that? Is it to create more opportunity? No, it is to build a prison. That is what the government is going to do: it is going to build a prison.

That is not good enough. It is not good enough for the people in this state, and it is not good enough for our young people. You have to provide them with a future that is meaningful. The government is not doing that; it is creating a new underclass. It is developing a society of the haves and have-nots that has not been seen in this state for many, many years. 

That is a true indictment of those opposite and their government.

John F. Kennedy said: 

Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.

That is true of Victoria, but if you have a look at the impact of these cuts, you see that for those dreams, those opportunities that individuals are looking for — and this is about those people and their aspirations — there is no comfort here.

We have heard that the Gordon Institute of TAFE is to lose about $15 million. The staff cuts are unknown. 

The institute’s chief executive officer, Mr Sutherland, is reported in the Geelong Advertiser as having said: 

The Gordon has a lead role in Geelong’s economy in transition.

Is this the way to treat an institute that is trying to deal with an economy that is in transition — a community that was hoaxed into believing that the port of Geelong was going to be the car transport centre for Victoria and Australia? Another hoax! There are job losses in Geelong all the time because of the manufacturing sector going down and the high Australian dollar. Where is the plan to make sure we are providing the jobs that Geelong needs in the future and the trained people to fill them? It is not there.

As we have heard, the University of Ballarat is looking at losing up to 100 staff and $20 million from its budget. On the university’s website it says: 

In summary, the projected net funding impact on the university from the state budget announcements is approximately $20 million, or put differently, the university 

has to reduce its total TAFE activity by around 30 to 40 per cent by the beginning of 2013 …

This has given the university a lot of time to plan, hasn’t it? The website continues: 

… and reduce services and costs elsewhere in the university, or otherwise begin to carry a major loss of up to $20 million by the end of 2013. Normally in these circumstances, governments allow transition arrangements for institutions to cope with these types of funding circumstances, but there is no period of adjustment or grace factored into the state budget announcements.

Then there is Victoria University, which is to lose $32 million. It has already lost 50 teaching staff as a result of the budget, and that may not be the end of it. 

There are 30 to 40 courses currently offered that will go, and there is the potential for even more to go. Then, as we have heard from the shadow Minister for Education, there is the impact on VET (vocational education and training) in schools. That is huge, and it will affect retention rates in our schools — make no mistake.

We have a situation whereby the government’s actions have had an immediate impact. Private providers will adapt and access the opportunities that those actions have created, but we are getting feedback that even responsible private providers are concerned about the haste with which these measures were introduced. They are also concerned, as are the TAFEs and the regulators, that they will not be in a position to regulate the way the private industry and private providers adapt to these changes and whether or not they will provide the quality education that TAFEs have provided for years. 

It is an indictment of this government that it thinks that with just the slash of a pen it can destroy the dreams and opportunities of a generation of young people. This is a government shrouded in secrecy. It would not release the report, but it will have to now because Fair Work Australia will insist upon it. The Vertigan report has not been released, and the KPMG report has not been released. This is a government that is in budget crisis. It is its budget crisis, and the young people of Victoria should not have to pay for it.